By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Most days, Harriet comes home from work, takes off her bra and gets high.
"I'm going outside," she calls across the house, padding toward the garage in a tee shirt and jeans. The dog follows. Harriet stops to move wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer, then heads to a work table laid out with an ashtray, a lighter, a small pink bong and a Ziploc baggie filled halfway with pot. She packs the bong once and takes several deep stoner hits, filling the hot October afternoon air with sweet smoke.
There's no phone out here. No computer. No clock that works. Harriet stands at her work table and considers rearranging the living room furniture. Sometimes she writes fiction. No one bugs her out here. Her girlfriend can't stand the smoke. Even the dog's not wild about it. He leaves as soon as she picks up the lighter.
Harriet doesn't keep her pot locked up, and she often smokes with the garage door open -- the cars in the driveway block the view from her central Phoenix street.
But few people know that Harriet smokes pot. And very few, if any, would ever guess.
Harriet is 43. For the past 16 years, she has run her own successful small business. She pays her taxes. She usually votes. She's in a long-term relationship. College-educated. She rarely even speeds on the freeway.
"I haven't had a ticket in a million years. I'm a very law-abiding person," she says.
Except when it comes to marijuana.
Harriet may be a lonely stoner, but she's not alone. Pot smokers are among us: your kid's schoolteacher, your lawyer, the chef at your favorite local restaurant. This particular brand of pot smoker likely doesn't drink much and gave up cigarettes long ago. They don't subscribe to High Times. They feel out of place in head shops. Some are Republicans. They're not very good at rolling joints, but they do know how to make a bong out of a toilet paper roll, if necessary.
They don't want their kids to get high, at least not till they're 18. They'll lie to the kid about what's in that baggie in the underwear drawer. These secret pot smokers don't get busted -- most will tell you they get their pot from "friends," not "dealers" -- and if they do get addicted to the stuff, no one seems to know.
But they do get pot, and they do get high. Some nearly every day, like Harriet.
Harriet first encountered pot in college and liked it right away. Way better than drinking. But she eventually stopped, mainly because no one else she knew was smoking. A couple years ago, an old friend came to town and showed up at a party with some pot. Harriet loved it -- again. She started smoking -- again.
This time it's a solitary pursuit.
"Very few people that I know -- that I know -- smoke," she says. That makes it hard to find marijuana. At first her long-distance friend mailed it. She packed it in coffee, to mask the smell. But that got scary. Then Harriet found a local supply.
"Every time I get it, I'm thinking, Okay, I'll take my phone with me, so that if I get arrested, I can call somebody.' And it's a little nerve-wracking, every time. I have to get a little more, I have to buy it in larger quantities, so I don't have to go as often."
She pays $80 an ounce, and an ounce lasts her a couple of months. "It's really cheap, bad pot. But it works for me," she says.
Unfortunately, cheap pot gives Harriet the munchies.
Harriet budgets her money, so if times (or her waistband) are a little tight, she smokes a little less. She never drives stoned. She never, ever smokes on the job.
Does she ever wonder if her clients smoke? "Sometimes I do. And there was one client where I was almost going to say something," she says.
But she didn't. She never does.
"I'm not secretive about being a lesbian. I'm not secretive about anything else in my life. It's weird. It's not because somebody's going to beat me up. It's because I'm going to get fucking arrested."
It's virtually impossible to quantify the number of people who smoke pot today.
In recent weeks, New Times has talked with dozens of people who use marijuana: from computer programmers and MBAs to parents of toddlers and parents of teenagers. One woman was taking a break from smoking pot while she tries to pass a urinalysis to get a marketing job at a high-tech firm. Another sells pharmaceuticals and drinks a tea called "Urine Luck" that masks the marijuana in her system when her company drug tests. Artists, journalists, teachers, housewives, musicians, a former prosecutor.
With few exceptions, these people appear to live normal, productive, safe lives.
Pot is no big deal to them. Except when it comes to talking openly about it. Then they get a little paranoid.
For years, researchers have tried to quantify the number of marijuana users in America. Each year, the federal government sponsors the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. People are asked about tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use. Marijuana is broken into a separate category. In 2001, the survey estimated that 94 million Americans had tried marijuana in their lifetimes, 21 million in the past year.